Conservatives, Evolution, and “The Question”

“Do you believe in evolution?”

That’s the question GOP presidential candidates dread. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is the latest to hem and haw his way through an awkward press conference on the subject.

Of course, some GOP contenders have no need to fear. Ben Carson, for example, is a loud and proud young-earth creationist. But other potential nominees have had to dodge, duck, dive, and dip when the question comes up. Bobby Jindal, a former biology major at an Ivy League college, has confessed that he wants his own children to learn evolution. That doesn’t mean schools must teach it, though. Jindal wants “local schools” to decide what’s right for them. And Marco Rubio famously told GQ magazine that he was “not a scientist, man.”

Walker is the latest GOP notable pressured to answer “The Question.” At a London press conference, Walker did his best to avoid it. In the end, though, Walker felt obliged to clarify that he strongly believed that humanity was created by God, and that faith and science are compatible.

It has become such a staple of GOP press conferences that conservative pundits cry foul. Writing in the pages of the National Review, for example, Jonah Goldberg says these evolution questions are a cheap stunt, a way to make conservative candidates squirm. As Goldberg put it,

To borrow a phrase from the campus left, Darwinism is used to “otherize” certain people of traditional faith — and the politicians who want their vote.

As fellow conservative writer Kevin D. Williamson correctly pointed out, leading mainstream scientists will also insist that they don’t “believe in” evolution. Rather, they simply know it; they take it to be the best current explanation and model for understanding the way species have changed and developed.

Yet no matter how you slice it, “the question” has become a defining feature of Republican presidential candidates. Even candidates who seem personally to embrace mainstream evolutionary science are loath to alienate conservative religious voters. For many of those religious voters, evolution has become a moral litmus test, not just a statement of personal belief.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

17 Comments

  1. Writing in the pages of the National Review, for example, Jonah Goldberg says these evolution questions are a cheap stunt, a way to make conservative candidates squirm.

    I agree with that criticism.

    However, the conservatives started the culture wars, and they have been playing dirty ever since. They wrote the book on using cheap stunts.

    Reply
  2. Agellius

     /  February 13, 2015

    Conservatives started the culture wars?? That doesn’t even make sense. How can someone who wants things to stay as they are be the aggressor?

    Reply
    • I’m just reading Andrew Hartman’s new book, A War for the Soul of America. I don’t want to put words in Hartman’s mouth, but I think he makes the argument that the culture wars as they developed in the 1980s and 1990s were indeed started by conservatives. As he argues–and I’m oversimplifying his book here, but just to get the gist across–cultural changes from the Left in the 1960s (feminism, ethnic liberation movements, etc.) led to a reaction from the Right. What counts as “art?” What “truth” should schools teach? All these questions and more, Hartman argues, had been answered in fairly conventional, conservative ways as part of a 1950s “normative America.” In the late 1960s, they started getting radically new answers. In response, conservative intellectuals fought to challenge those new answers. This back-and-forth became known as the “culture wars.”

      Reply
      • Agellius

         /  February 13, 2015

        Right. You said it. “In response”. So why is the “response” considered the start of the war?

        What you describe is pretty much how I conceive of the way it happened. What I don’t understand is why the “radically new answers”, and the aggressive way in which they were asserted, doesn’t count as the start of the culture war.

        It seems as though liberals start from the premise that during the 60s the “right answers” were finally arrived at, and everyone was happy. And then all of the sudden, FOR NO REASON AT ALL the conservatives started getting nasty 25-30 years later.

  3. Who started the culture wars might be a sort of chicken-or-egg question. As I write to introduce chapter 2 of my book: “If New Leftists gave shape to one side of the culture wars, those who came to be called neoconservatives were hugely influential in shaping the other.” The liberation movements of the sixties challenged the normative America of the 1950s in such a profound way that the national culture was forever changed. Conservatives–both of the neocon and theocon variety–responded to this by launching the culture wars. This is what I would call the culture war dialectic. The culture wars were, in retrospect, an almost inevitable result of cultural revolutionary changes. It seems to me the impulse to claim one side or the other started the culture wars is rooted in a desire to assign blame which is to trivialize the culture wars as a historical phenomenon.

    Reply
    • Like Adam, you admit that the story begins in the 60s with “liberation movements” challenging the status quo. And like Adam you assert that the conservatives “responded” by “launching” the culture wars.

      Again I’m puzzled as to how a “response” can be considered the “launching” of the war.

      Reply
      • ahartma

         /  February 16, 2015

        As I made clear in my comment above I’m not really concerned with who started it. It required two to tango.

  4. If by asking a question you can divide your opponent’s base, throw them off message, and generally make their party look like it’s a fight in a clown car — that question is going to be asked no matter what it is.

    Reply
  5. Agellius

     /  February 17, 2015

    Andrew:

    And yet you felt it necessary to say that conservatives “launch[ed] the culture wars”.

    Reply
    • Agellius: Why are you so invested in determining who started the culture wars? I concede that the social movements of the sixties happened first, and the conservative reaction, being a reaction, came second (was launched). Now the question, if you’re so invested: which of these moves was the first culture wars move? I’m not really invested in that question because it’s more about assigning blame. Gary Nash describes my book in a way that nicely highlights this action-reaction dialectic of the culture wars: “By digging far beneath the cross-fire style of political rhetoric that bombards us today, Hartman shows how the seismic changes in American society–most notably in the struggle to create a more equal and inclusive democracy–unleashed a fierce conservative attempt to hold on to a world that was escaping their grip.”

      Reply
      • Agellius

         /  February 17, 2015

        Andrew:

        My interest is not in determining who started the culture wars, but in rebutting the assertion that they were started by conservatives. I only argued because you appeared to assert that they were “launched” by one side and not the other. If you agree that no one should be said to have started them, then you and I have nothing to argue about.

  6. Agellius

     /  February 17, 2015

    “By digging far beneath the cross-fire style of political rhetoric that bombards us today, Hartman shows how the seismic changes in American society–most notably in the struggle to create a more equal and inclusive democracy–unleashed a fierce conservative attempt to hold on to a world that was escaping their grip.”

    This confirms my characterization (above) of the liberal assumption with regard to the culture wars: That the liberals (from the 60s on) were only trying to do good, when the conservatives suddenly launched a war to stop them. The liberals’ first move can’t be the start of the war, because how can an attempt to do good be warlike? Thus the war only started with the “fierce conservative attempt” to cling desperately to things as they were, which, it is implied, were bad.

    You do see how this is a one-sided characterization, don’t you?

    Reply
    • ahartma

       /  February 17, 2015

      I happen to believe that the civil rights, feminist, and other liberation movements of the sixties did far more good than bad. But I didn’t spend seven years of my life researching and writing a book about the culture wars to prove something so banal. Rather I wanted to understand how it was that left and right had come to such diametrically opposed notions of the “good” in relation to conceptualizations and expressions of American culture. I think my book achieves this by being fair to all sides in my representation and analysis of the primary sources (readers will have to judge for themselves). In being fair to the historical record I make it evident how and why conservatives came to oppose the sixties movements, and how and why their opposition to those movements informed their ideas about politics and culture in the 80s and 90s–during the culture wars. Someone like Nash is going to think the movements of the sixties were “good” and thus the conservative attempt to resist them “bad.” I might agree with this. You might disagree. But you might also think I’m fair to everyone involved. In other words, there’s nothing inherently normative in my characterization, only in how it is interpreted.

      Reply
  7. Agellius

     /  February 17, 2015

    Andrew:

    Fair enough.

    Reply
    • Growing up I understood the “culture wars” be prosecuted around me by conservatives as a reactionary offensive. There really is no such thing as a conservative offensive — it would be too liberal and progressive.

      I am looking forward to the Gen-X historiography that simply blames everything on all Anglo Boomers for their reciprocity of reaction to each other as well as their overmedicated Millenial Republicrat spawn. 🙂

      Reply
  1. What’s Left? Bernie Sanders on Education | I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  2. Why Didn’t They Talk about Schools? | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s